Can experience be commoditized? Are we already there in the B2B Experience Economy? How will we know when the process of intentional experience design evolves from being a product differentiator to something that is an expected part of the total package? What happens when a great user experience that differentiates the service or product is the expectation?
We hear a lot about products that have become commodities, but what is a commodity and what does it mean when something has been commoditized? When we think about commodities, we typically think of tangible items like wheat, coffee beans or bananas and the newest commodities include cell phone minutes, solar energy, and bandwidth (Investopedia, 2018). Even smartphones, microwaves and PCs are now considered commodities (PCWorld, 2013).
If we consider Hancock’s (1999) hierarchy of hedonomics, we can see that UX (pleasurable experience) is built on a foundation of safety, functionality and usability (see below). For the most part, safety and reliability are already commodities. There are government agencies that define and enforce safety standards, and companies expect that the software or services they purchase will be reliable and bug-free. What about usability? Have easy-to-use products or user-centered design become commodities? Businesses expect products to be usable. Users certainly miss ease-of-use when it absent. There are heuristics by which designers can improve menu navigation, task efficiency, and error avoidance. Whether most or all products are easy-to-use does not the negate whether easy-to-use products are an expectation.
Again, extrapolating from Hancock’s hedonomic hierarchy, UX is likely the next target for commoditization. Others agree (UXMatters, 2018; Roller, 2017; UXCollective, 2018). That said, it’s challenging to produce a great experience when ease-of-use isn’t yet guaranteed. Right now, most practitioners probably mean that basic usability is no longer a differentiator among products or services and that companies expect to be able to use the service or product successfully. They don’t mean that tailored experiences are being commoditized. That doesn’t mean that bespoke user experiences won’t be the expectation in the foreseeable future.
So where do B2B companies begin? Companies will have to deliver some standard level of differentiated experience for their customers. If B2B companies want customers to pay for experience, it will be up to them to substantiate their value through UX that goes above and beyond some basic standard that will likely change over time. While it’s not just about UX design, it could be all about user experience. The focus of UX is often on design, but effective designs are research-informed. Exceptional UX is a collaboration between design, research and development.
B2B companies who want to stand out among the commodity experience products will need to shift their focus to research, or at least incorporate research into their design cycle. In order to understand clients’ needs and problems, you need to ask them, watch them, know what your competition is doing, understand why clients choose your service over another or another over yours. User research can be what differentiates one service or product from another.
One problem B2B companies may face as customers begin to expect a more differentiated or tailored experience is the sheer overhead it will take to manage and generate these experiences. While it’s now more common for companies to employ a UX designer or two, only larger companies are able employ entire teams of UX professionals and generally, only the largest companies have dedicated user researchers. Customers may not be willing to pay more for these differentiated experiences, but the costs to companies could be substantial.
Now is a good time, before user experience has been completely commoditized, to start thinking about how your business will handle the expectancy of great experiences in the future. It’s no longer enough for customers walk away from a product feeling just satisfied or successful. Users want to feel happy, or at least not stressed, while using products. Business customers want products that will improve productivity and efficiency without the need for extra support. As more B2B companies fulfill these companies’ desires with customized products, the more customers will expect those qualities in every product.
Also Read: The High Cost of Poor Customer Experience.
Hancock, P. A., Pepe, A. A., & Murphy, L. L. (2005). Hedonomics: The power of positive and pleasurable ergonomics. Ergonomics in Design, 13(1), 8-14.